How to Select the Best Walking Shoes

By Erin Palinski-Wade

When it comes to walking for exercise, the single most important piece of equipment that you need is a pair of supportive, well fitting, walking shoes. Without the proper shoes, your risk of injury and discomfort greatly increases, which lessens your chances of staying on track with your walking routine. Although the correct footwear is essential, knowing how to identify the right footwear for you can feel overwhelming.

Depending on where you walk, how often, and the type of walking you do, your footwear needs vary. In addition, if you have any orthopedic issues or health conditions, such as diabetes, your footwear needs may be more specialized.

Think about your planned walking routine as well as any preexisting injuries, previous foot discomfort (such as frequent blisters), or health conditions that impact your feet that you may have. Once you have identified how you walk and any specialized needs you may have, you can start to understand what form of footwear is best suited for you.

Fit is key to a great walking shoe. You want to avoid rubbing that can cause blisters or pinching that cuts off circulation. The shoes should be snug, but roomy enough for your toes to wiggle around. And, the shape of your foot (whether you’re flat‐footed or have high or normal arches) also determines comfort. You’ll need to try on several pairs to see the differences, and when you find the one, you’ll know.

Stores like REI and The Walking Shoe have excellent salespeople to guide you, or you can try on several at home at no cost by shopping online at Zappos or Macys, which offer free shipping and free returns.

When it comes to walking shoes, remember that they are designed specifically for walking and should only be used for that purpose. Walking requires a shoe providing a low, rounded heel with good support and should be lightweight and allow your foot to breathe.

One of the most important things to look for is a soft landing when walking, to reduce the impact walking has on your bones and joints. However, when looking at the thickness of the sole of your shoe, don’t overdo it either. Make sure the shoe still remains flexible, especially at the toe.

Other factors that are also important to consider include technology available with the shoe, fashion, weight, fabrics, and your fitness level (whether you’re a power walker or more of a leisurely walker). The use of your shoe matters too. Think about whether you’re walking indoors, outdoors, or in particular weather conditions, as well as your health.

Walking shoes for indoor walking

You may be walking at work, at home, on a treadmill at the gym, on a track at the gym, or even at the mall. When walking indoors, a lightweight shoe that’s breathable is typically your best option, because your climate is controlled and you don’t have to worry about becoming too warm or too cold. However, depending on the type of walking you’re doing, finding a shoe with appropriate support is important.

If you plan to power walk on the treadmill or indoor track, having good support is key. Make sure your shoe contains enough shock resistance to protect your body from the pounding of fast walking. Try out a few shoes and make sure they feel flexible enough to walk in while providing shock absorption and good arch support. Some companies that provide a good selection of indoor walking shoes include Rebook, Adidas, and Sneakers 4 U.

Walking shoes for outdoor walking

When it comes to walking outdoors, the weather conditions and terrain are the biggest factors in selecting appropriate footwear. If you typically walk in a warm climate, look for lightweight, ventilated walking shoes such as those with mesh panels. Mesh is cooler than leather and dries faster when your feet sweat.

In addition, try pairing your walking shoe with socks that wick away sweat, to help keep your feet as dry and comfortable as possible. If you walk at a slow pace, you may also look into walking sandals as well for extra breathability.

If you walk in colder weather, aim for a full leather shoe for extra warmth. Looking for an all‐terrain sole is also helpful to prevent slips in ice or snow. If you plan to walk in extreme weather conditions or on uneven terrain, crampons, ice grippers, and other terrain sole attachments are quite useful for safety and endurance.

Walking shoes for varying fitness levels

Your current fitness level and walking goals can also help to determine your footwear selection. If your main goal is comfort when walking, a great brand to look for is Ryka Radiant, which was voted most comfortable walking shoe by Fitness Magazine. However, for power walkers, this same magazine selected New Balance 615 as the most supportive option.

If you plan to walk more casually at a slower pace or are mostly focusing on increasing your steps, you may find yourself walking barefoot at times (especially if you enjoy walking on the beach). But if you have medical conditions that can impact your circulation, especially those that can impact circulation in your legs and feet, such as diabetes, it’s vital to never walk barefoot as this could lead to wounds and infections.

Walking shoes for orthopedic problems

If you have flat feet, bunions, plantar fasciitis, or any variety of foot issue, orthopedic shoes can make your walk not only safer, but also more comfortable. In fact, wearing the correct orthopedic shoe can help to prevent, treat, and even reduce pain caused by many foot conditions. It can also help to ­prevent these conditions from worsening into a chronic, painful condition that may keep you from walking on a regular basis.

Orthopedic shoes have come a long way, and in addition to providing extra comfort and protection, they can be quite stylish too. These shoes typically provide extra depth, shock absorption, and support and come in a variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate any foot size and any form of walking. If you have orthopedic foot conditions, speak to your podiatrist about the best and safest footwear for your specific condition and planned form of exercise.

Walking shoes for health issues

Certain health conditions can put you more at risk for injuries when walking. In addition, other health conditions can impact circulation, leading to poor wound healing. With conditions such as these, it’s vital that you practice proper foot care and select the best footwear for your individual needs to cut down on your risk of wounds that can lead to infection.

Individuals with diabetes need to be especially careful when walking. Ill‐fitting footwear can increase the risk of blisters and wounds, which, if left untreated, can result in infection and, in extreme cases, amputation. With diabetes, it’s very important to visit your podiatrist regularly and discuss what footwear would be best for you when walking.

With a diagnosis of diabetes, some insurance companies even provide reimbursement for your footwear. However, regardless of whether you purchase your footwear on your own or your insurance company provides it for you, make sure you always discuss your choices with your physician first to get the best option for your individual needs.

Health conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and degenerative joint disease can impact your gait when walking, increasing your risk for falls and injuries. With these conditions, you should speak with your podiatrist and/or physical therapist about specific considerations to keep in mind when selecting your walking shoe.

Depending on your needs, you may need a shoe with a thicker sole for extra shock absorption, an extra‐flexible shoe to aid in balance, or a shoe with an all‐terrain sole to help protect against slip and fall accidents, especially if walking outside. Walking with health conditions is possible, and very often may even help to improve your condition. But safety is always the first priority, so always speak to your physician first to determine what is best for your individual needs.